Instead, he snapped photos of himself and the affected area, uploaded them to the doctor's website and waited.
"I got feedback from him the same day. It was probably within three, four hours,"
Such is the promise of telemedicine, the use of technology to connect patients and healthcare providers who may be miles or even half a world apart. The growing trend is touted as a way to increase access to medical care, especially among patients in remote areas, and to bring efficiency to an overburdened healthcare system.
It is, said
When paramedics answered a
After assessing 59-year-old
It was an interesting experience, said Ms. Verdu, who had called 911 after waking up with low blood sugar. "I was just so nervous because it wasn't going up," she said.
The number of telemedicine services is increasing in
The telemedicine market includes not only services provided by local healthcare organizations such as Allegheny Health Network and UPMC but those offered by out-of-state, investor-backed networks, such as 12-year-old,
While the concept may sound new to patients, telemedicine originated with doctor-to-doctor telephone consultations and has been evolving for at least 25 years, said
"It's been around for longer than I think most people realize," Ms. Sokolovich said.A shortage of psychiatrists helped give telemedicine a boost in the early 2000s, she said.
Technological advances -- some that have improved diagnostics and others that have ensured the confidentiality of patient communication-- also have fueled the surge.
But insurance hasn't yet caught up with the technology. In some cases, patients have to pay out of pocket for telemedicine, though the fees may be no more than the co-pay for an office visit.
In November, UPMC established AnywhereCare, offering around-the-clock consultation on common ailments. Patients log on to a website, answer a series of questions and usually get a diagnosis and treatment plan from a nurse practitioner, physician assistant or physician within 30 minutes.
If follow-up questions are necessary, Ms. Sokolovich said, patient and practitioner may communicate by phone, email or a video conferencing capability built into the website. So far, the service has had more than 2,100 patient visits.
Another UPMC initiative connects patients and healthcare providers at community hospitals and outpatient centers with the system's
To aid in care, the specialist can examine the patient via cameras, digital stethoscopes and other devices operated by counterparts at the community hospital or outpatient center.
"The patient truly has a visit that is comparable to what they would have had in person with that specialist," Ms. Sokolovich said.
In addition to the pre-hospital program, Allegheny Health Network this year allocated funds for a "telemedicine lab" at
"If you try to make an appointment with a dermatologist, usually, on average, you're talking a six-month wait," he said.
Telemedicine knows no borders. Last month, the journal Telemedicine and e-Health published a
Is international telemedicine technically feasible? "The answer is yes," Dr. Munoz, who is also the hospital's global business and telemedicine director, said. "Have we changed the practice there? The answer is probably yes."
Dr. Munoz and
"It is actually almost like being there," Dr. Lopez said of the consultations. The technology is so good, Dr. Munoz said, that thousands of miles are reduced to "centimeters of distance."
(c)2014 the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Visit the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette at www.post-gazette.com
Distributed by MCT Information Services